Changing the default python version in Debian

In a previous post, I explained how to upgrade from Python3.5 to Python3.7, however is is still the case in most fresh Debian installs that the default python version is 2.7. This post is going to show you the simple steps you need to take when changing the default python version in Debian.

This guide is based on a Debian 9 installation, but work for multiple releases.

Check you default version

First we need to check our current default version of python. This is the version of python that you Debian OS will try to execute python scripts with unless otherwise specified.

python -V


python --version

My fresh install of Debian 9 told me that my default was: 2.7.17. Old and unwanted.

Install Python 3

This is optional and only applies for those who don’t already have python 3 installed:

apt install python3

Set your Python Default

Now it is time configure the priority for the versions of python that we have installed, 2.7 and 3.5/7. You can list all of the available alternatives installed by running:

ls /usr/bin/python*

To set your version priorities, with 3.5 being the high priority:

update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/python python /usr/bin/python2.7 1
update-alternatives --install /usr/bin/python python /usr/bin/python3.5 2

We have just set 3.5 to have a priority great than 2.7. Now when we list the python priorities we see see 3.5 is higher that 2.7:

update-alternatives --config python

This is also a great way to easily switch those priorities around once they have been set.

Check you default version, again…

python -V

Now this command should return the default which you configured above.

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